Mahathir vs Anwar, the day after the collapse of PH: political developments from 4pm 25 Feb to 3pm 26 Feb 2020

As it stands today, the Agong is still in the middle of meeting with all 222 MPs to ascertain who they will support as PM. Until the process is complete, all we have is speculation. But back to the timeline.

Tuesday, 25 February

Just before 4pm, GPS in Sarawak issued a statement saying they would fully support Mahathir as Prime Minister. With their support, it seemed at that point that all parties in Malaysia had indicated they wanted Mahathir as PM.

This is when, just before 5pm, Wan Saiful Wan Jan of Bersatu proposed that a unity government be formed. In such a situation, a unity government would comprise all parties in support of the PM, and the PM would have the prerogative to select Cabinet members across the political divide. This would be unprecedented – as many possible options are for the country at this point given the entire situation is unprecedented in our history – but the unity government proposal was short-lived.

At about 8pm, PAS and UMNO announced that they were against the unity government proposal, saying they would not want to be in coalition with DAP. They hence retracted their support for Mahathir for PM. Recall that they had been to the Istana just two days before on the understanding that the new coalition would be called Perikatan Nasional (not Pakatan Nasional as some had previously understood), with a reported 130 statutory declarations given to the Agong.

At 9.22pm, it was reported that the PH Presidential Council that was meeting at the PKR headquarters that evening had met a consensus, but that it would not be revealed until the following day (Wednesday). This was announced by Amanah deputy president Salahuddin Ayob. Khalid Samad said that they would not be asking for fresh polls as they already had a clear majority.

Based on some basic calculations, with GPS’ 18 MPs, this would actually mean more than just a simple majority for PH and friends in government, including DAP’s 42, PKR’s 39, Amanah’s 11, Warisan and Upko’s 10, and the 5 who exited from Bersatu alongside Mahathir. With 125 (at least from this count), this would be more than the 112 required.

At 11pm, Syed Saddiq announced that the Bersatu Youth wing would not work with UMNO, given their top leadership was still being charged on investigations of corruption including Zahid Hamidi.

And a bit on the states: in the evening at 7pm, the Johor BN chief announced that they would be forming a new state government with 5 crossover state assemblypersons from PKR, to the UMNO-PAS coalition. This would bring the total to 33 seats out of 56, in which only 29 is required to form a simple majority. If true, then PH would have lost 4 states including Perak, Kedah, Malacca and Johor, left only with Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, and two PH-friendly states Sarawak (under GPS leadership) and Sabah (under Warisan leadership). If so, then UMNO+PAS+Bersatu would gain three states, controlling the majority in the states of Perak, Malacca, Kedah, Johor, Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis. This coalition would gain overall, increasing their state count (compared to the previous UMNO + PAS count) by three, and PH hence also losing three states in total.

In short, this was the day in which the unity government was proposed, then quashed almost immediately, and no further sign of the new government formation yet. Mahathir was photographed being back at his desk at work at the PMO.

Wednesday, 26 February

The day started with a slight slowing of the news compared to the previous few days.

At 7am, the Malaysian Insight reported that Bersatu was mulling a return to PH, following UMNO and PAS’ calling for fresh polls, which had thrown them into disarray.

At 10am, photos circulated on Whatsapp of Anwar Ibrahim and Wan Azizah celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, smiles all around.

It is understood that the Agong had met with a total of 83 MPs on Tuesday the day before, and would be meeting with the remaining 139 MPs on Wednesday (today) starting with Bersatu, PKR, Amanah, Azmin’s camp, Sabah, DAP and other remaining MPs. In the meantime, the Malacca state exco was meeting, business as usual in the morning.

At noon, Bersatu issued a statement saying again that they would be supporting Mahathir as Prime Minister.  

At 12.48pm, photos of PKR MPs standing atop an open-top bus were circulated, with them waving and smiling on their way to the Istana.

At 1pm, Azmin Ali’s independent bloc issued a statement reiterating their support for Mahathir as Prime Minister. In the statement, they called for a “national reconciliation” as this would allow for a stable Malaysia in tackling the many challenges ahead.

In the meantime, the Istana which has been handling its media relations excellently, with already servings of KFC and McDonald’s the day before, prepared “ikan patin tempoyak” for the media waiting outside the Istana. Whoever is handling their media relations must be given a pat on the back. Well done to the Istana.

An anonymous source was quoted in FMT as saying that Azmin’s bloc would be joining Bersatu, including Santhara Kumar who would be joining as an associate member.

At 1.59pm, the Malaysian Insight reported that the PH decision was to support Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister. In such a scenario, PH would only have 92 MP seats, with DAP’s 42, PKR’s 39 and Amanah’s 11. The Straits Times also confirmed this. The most vocal among PH leadership seems to be Amanah’s Khalid Samad, who is asking Mahathir to do the right thing by giving Anwar Ibrahim the 8th Prime Ministerial position as committed to.

This is a gamble by PH. Calling for a minority government led by Anwar Ibrahim is itself unprecedented. And may cause the other parties to rally around the original plan by Azmin Ali, which was for Mahathir to be PM. In such a scenario, it would be PH’s 92 MPs versus however many MPs Azmin can cobble together under a “National Reconciliation” plan with a Mahathir PM, possibly even more if he can organise the parties he gathered at Sheraton, perhaps sans the unpalateable leaders that Mahathir was and is unwilling to work with (UMNO top leadership most of all). If so, this would see Bersatu + Azmin’s bloc + GPS + PAS + some UMNO forming a coalition and coming into power with a simple majority.

As at 3pm, Wednesday 26 February 2020, this is where it stands. What to expect in the hours to come: The result of the Agong having met all 222 MPs, and where Bersatu decides to go. Even if they want to join PH, will the PH parties accept them now? Whichever government comes into place will see a battering on all sides, a weakened coalition, with a more challenging time ahead to instate reforms or any sort of policy agenda.

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